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Haligonians attend candlelight vigil in support of refugees

by Moira Donovan

Photo Moira Donovan
Photo Moira Donovan
Photo Moira Donovan
Photo Moira Donovan
Photo Moira Donovan
Photo Moira Donovan

KJIPUKTUK (HALIFAX) – This Sunday evening, nearly a hundred people gathered in Victoria Park to silently commemorate refugees who’ve died fleeing conflict around the globe.

Ruth Bishop, a volunteer with Refugees Welcome Maritimes and one of the organizers of the event, pointed to the number of people who braved the rain to attend the vigil on short notice as proof that Canadians are far more concerned about the plight of refugees than government inaction would suggest.

“I think this country is filled by people who want to help and are really caring, so really what we’re asking is for the government to let us help,” she said. “We’re being put to shame by Germany, and it’s particularly shocking because we’re a country of immigrants and refugees. “

Last week, the Germany Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said that Germany would accept 500,000 Syrian refugees annually for the next few years, although Gabriel predicted on Sunday that the number of people seeking asylum in Germany this year would reach one million.

In 2014, Canada accepted 23,286 refugees, earning it 41st place in the international ranking of countries for number of refugees per capita, according to CBC.

That low rank doesn’t stem from antipathy towards refugees on the ground, said Andy Blair, who was passing out candles before the event started. Blair is a member of Canadian Unitarians for Social Justice, and noted that more than 30 religious and non-profit groups devoted to bringing refugees into the community have formed over the past few weeks in Halifax alone.

“I think there’s a groundswell of support, I think where the problem lies is a lack of political will at the highest level,” he said. “We need to make it less difficult and less bureaucratic to save people’s lives. “

Mohamed Masalmeh has experienced this bureaucracy first hand.

With his family in tow and a Syrian flag draped around his shoulders, Masalmeh said that the candlelit vigil was a way of reminding people that they needed to continue to push the federal government to expedite the process of accepting refugees.

In 2013, he began the sponsorship process for relatives of his brother in law, but over the course of the nearly two-year wait , that family nearly gave up, and were considering going back in Syria to be killed or captured rather than stay in a refugee camp where there was no future.

Eventually, ISANS assisted Masalmeh in putting together a sponsorship agreement holder application, and within three months, that family was safely in Canada. But having accomplished that, he’s no less determined to advocate for other refugees.

“If all of us said I can’t change anything nothing would change. We have to do something. Every person here can do something.”

Masalmeh emigrated from Syria 20 years ago, but just because he’s in Canada now, doesn’t mean his life should be worth more than the lives of those still struggling to escape conflict in the Middle East and elsewhere, he said.

Events like Sunday’s vigil are important to mourn those refugees who’ve lost their lives and to send thoughts to those still making the journey, said Masalmeh, refugees that include members of his own family.

But it’s just as important to demand political change that goes beyond campaign promises, and looking around at the diverse crowd gathered at Victoria Park, he suggested a message for people to send to their elected representatives, both at the polls on October 19 and in the days before and after.

“Send this message: bring more people here, let us become a strong country, show the government that the same people that are willing to vote are the ones who are interested in fixing this situation,” he said. “This country is built by immigrants and refugees. It’s in our DNA.”

See also: We have a country full of people who care and want to help

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Topics: Migration
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